The English Novel: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton provides a scholarly introduction to the major English novelists. A word of warning - don't read this if you don't like spoilers. It should probably be obvious that there are spoilers since it analyzes works of literature, but I should wanted to warn people!
When I started this book, it was when I prepared for my trip to London by reading my way through some of the English canon. I would read a work or two by an author, then would read the chapter on that author. At some point this plan fell by the wayside and it's just been lingering in my currently reading pile. This weekend I decided to just finish it and just skip over the parts about works that I didn't want to have spoiled. The last few chapters were about authors like Joyce and Woolf, which you can't really spoil anyway.
Overall, I thought this was an interesting read and would be a good intro for a college course on the English novel. I'm not sure if it'd be great for the lay reader unless you're interested in a more scholarly analysis. The only thing that bugged me about it is that Eagleton has a habit of inserting his opinion, which I didn't really feel was appropriate for this type of work, especially because he would present his opinions in the same way he was presenting facts. Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way.
One of the things is opinions made me think of was the hierarchy of how we tend to think of literature. Modernist/Post-Modernist literature > classics > literary fiction > mainstream fiction > genre fiction > chick lit. I feel like in a lot of cases, wherever people fall on this reading scale, they tend to think everyone above them is a snob and everyone below them isn't well read. I definitely got the feeling from Eagleton that he's of the "if it's not Modernist/Post-Modernist or at least a classic, why are you even reading it" camp. I'm not claiming to be innocent either. I read from up and down the scale, but do have a tendency to judge others who read only from one category. They aren't as well rounded as me, obviously. :)
Whatever you're reading this week, I hope you're enjoying it because that's what matters!